As part of our continuing goal of getting a walk in every day during the coronavirus pandemic we investigated the Reformatory Branch Trail in Bedford.
Part of the Friends of Depot Park’s three trail system, the four-mile flat path runs from Bedford to Concord Center along the former Boston and Maine rail line. We parked at the dirt lot just off of Railroad Avenue, which was easy to find off of Route 62 in Bedford.
On the day we visited, the path was active with families, cyclists, and walkers out to make good use of the time granted. The trail is wide and was a touch soft and muddy in a few spots so the best advice is to wear hikers or footwear that is OK to get a little dirty.
There are plenty of ways to skirt the mud, so don’t let that information deter you. We had a few of us on foot and a few on bikes for this trail, all giving a thumbs up review.
The Reformatory Branch, according to the Friend’s of Depot Park information, went to the state prison in Concord, hence its name. Remnants of the old rail line are apparent along the trail, including a whistle stop and a siding; a place to load freight onto rail cars.
Railroad ties are visible in some places along the edges, and there are several features such as crossings and remnant of old stations.
Those familiar with the Minuteman Bikeway, an 11-mile paved path, may find this a nice alternative. There is no pavement on this trail, but it is friendly for bicycles due to the packed earth. There are several street crossings including Hartwell Avenue, Route 62 and some smaller residential roads.
If you make it all the way to Concord Center, the Trail’s End café will greet you (though don’t expect it open if you visit now during the pandemic).
The scenic Dike Trail branches offer a tour around the Great Meadows National Wildlife Refuge which skirts along the trail. This meadow is considered, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service, as one of the premier birding locations in Massachusetts.
Bicycles and dogs are not permitted on this portion of the trail. There is an observation tower at one end of the trail for visitors to survey the meadow. A manmade dike separates the meadow from the river.
Spring peepers were loud on the day we visited, and the birding will only increase as the weather warms. Bring binoculars and a birding guide. We liked this trail so much, we went back a second day to explore.
There are several side trails from the main Reformatory Branch Trail which can be explored, but it is suggested to wear long pants and long sleeves as mosquitoes and ticks are emerging. This advice applies for any trail walk, actually.
For example, the Elm Brook Conservation Area is on one side of the trail, and near Concord Center one could make a side trip to the Old North Bridge and the Old Manse on Monument Street in Concord.
As with all attractions during this pandemic, call ahead or check websites to see if restrooms are open. Even if Massachusetts receives a stay-at-home order, residents will be allowed to go outdoors for a walk.